Strong Spirit: Hope for Women Living with Illness

Even at this time of reduced social interaction I keep (virtually) bumping into women who are sick or struggling.  There was a time when I thought I was the only odd one.  As a youngish woman living with a chronic condition, it seemed to me that the frustration and pain of dealing with an uncooperative body made my life abnormal.  I felt abnormal.

But what is normal?  I’ve come to realize that most of us struggle – some with emotional issues like depression or anxiety, others with physical challenges like cancer or arrhythmia.

I wonder if you ever feel alone in your pain?  Of if you know someone wrestling with a recent diagnosis or ongoing condition.  Do you think Strong Spirit might touch the hurting place in your life or in the life of your loved one?  My hope is that it will. In Strong Spirit I share my own story and introduce readers to other women who live well in spite of on-going challenges.

Do you long to live a meaningful life in spite of chronic pain or illness?
Does depression or anxiety interfere with routines that used to be easy?

In this book Holly will help you:

  • Discover that you have not been rejected or abandoned by God.
  • Learn to stop comparing yourself to others or to your former self.
  • Find balance between selfless love and self-care.
  • Find joy and comfort in your most distressing moments.
  • Embrace new hope for the future.

We belong to a community of real women who suffer and struggle. Although brokenness may be part of this season of our lives, let’s inspire one another as we allow God to use our strengths and our weakness for His glory.

In Canada, order on

In the U.S, order on, Barnes & Noble,, or

Featured post

Moss, Radishes and Chicken Soup

Tiny flowers on Irish moss, ruby radishes ready to eat and a gift of homemade chicken soup all make life lovely, even when stomach flu has us sluggish, shivering and sleep-deprived.

A heat wave hit our city two days ago and my radishes bolted. I read on-line that once they do this they become bitter, woody and peppery, so it’s time to harvest any that are marble-sized or bigger.

While I’m on the topic of gardening, do you have any idea what could be nibbling at my cabbage and cauliflower? Should I be worried, and aggressively look for a culprit and a solution… or will the crop be okay in spite of holes in the foliage?

I promised an update on the Goodbye Bees Garden. It’s coming along. Definitely less appealing to pollinators. Any time a chive or iris blooms, I pick it. I’ve never had so many bouquets in the house!

A neighbour found out we’ve been sick with stomach flu. He sent a message, asking if I wanted him to make us chicken soup. My first instinct was to decline – No, thanks – so kind, but you don’t need to. And then I remembered my last post… about letting others help us when we’re weak. So I told him, YES – I would love some chicken soup!

He made us a big pot and brought it over the next day. When the lid came off the pot, I nearly cried. It smelled like the soups of my childhood, made by Dutch relatives. That broth kept us happy for days. To thank our neighbour, I picked a bouquet of irises and left them on his back porch. I hope he likes the flowers as much as we liked his soup (although it seems doubtful – his soup was amazing.)

Without flowers, the back garden is simpler than before, and I find my eyes drawn to less obvious delights. Like the moss, and its miniscule white flowers. I also like watching chipmunks run along the dry river bed – as though it’s a short cut from here to there. These critters have discovered that if they hop on a decorative rock next to our bird bath, one more big jump takes them to a clean water source. (How do they manage NOT to crash into the water, but to fling themselves up, landing just on the bird bath rim?)

That’s all for now… if you have any suggestions about how to deter veggie-eating insects, please let me know!

Weak and Strong

Most of us start life full of energy and enthusiasm. We’re young, able-bodied and eager. Then comes a shift that many of us go through, from invincible to fearful.

What moved you along this path? It could be something as seemingly insignificant as bullies at school or as huge as a brain aneurysm.

For author Jessica Fechtor, it was a brain aneurism. I’ve just read her book, Stir – a story about food and cooking and crisis.

Reading about someone else’s internal trauma and recognizing many of my own thoughts and feelings in Jessica’s caught me by surprise and felt strangely comforting. She voiced some of the less obvious emotional challenges I faced in my own experience with illness.

The author was young when she ran into trouble. In her late twenties, the transition from eager and energized to fearful and incapable was shocking, to say the least. I like how she traces not only the tragedy of it, but also the value of lessons learned through hard seasons of life. Personal growth. In particular, she traces the journey from being strong and serving others, to admitting weakness and accepting help.

It’s a lesson we all need, I think.

We are not meant to always give, to never receive. We are not meant to project an image of calm competence when we feel broken. We all have needs. We all have broken moments. We all need one another. We need that beautiful (sometimes undesirable) dance of shifting roles – in and out of giving to, and accepting from, others – being the strong one, then being the weak one.

Is today a weak day or a strong day for you? Reach out, either for help or to help.

Stay Home Sushi

My first taste of sushi was in a home kitchen. A boy named Marcus took me to his house – he was deliriously excited about showing me his bunk beds – and his mother made us sushi for dinner. I taught day care for a few years just after college, and Marcus was one of my favourite students.

That day, at his house, the sushi looked so odd to me: little circles of rice and seaweed on a plate. I can’t say I liked it, but I politely ate everything I was served. Since then I’ve had sushi many times and I’ve learned a few things about it.

  • Deep-fried sushi makes me feel sick.
  • Avocado-stuffed sushi is the best kind.
  • Sushi made with black rice isn’t nice.
  • Sushi is the restaurant food my husband and daughter miss the most since Covid started.

May 24th is a civic holiday in Canada and we decided to celebrate by making sushi.

Previous attempts did not turn out well. I thought black rice would make for healthy rolls, but the result was something that looked and tasted pretty unappetizing. An international student once made us homemade sushi, but the chicken and banana filling she used was exotic, and not in a pleasant way. This time would be different. Delicious.

The process began with research; you can learn to do anything on you-tube.

While the rice cooked, I mixed some spicy mayo using ingredients I found in the fridge (mayo, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar and chile garlic sauce).

We found some old sushi rice at the back of the pantry, and prepared this with care, washing it quickly and thoroughly, spreading it out after cooking to cool, and seasoning it with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar and salt.

My daughter made better rolls than I did. Too enthusiastic with the spicy mayo, my first roll was a squishy mess. She rolled, I rolled, and my husband took photos.

We sliced the sushi, arranged it on a plate, and Alexis – the artistic one – added a garnish of mayo to each piece.

I’m sure a sushi chef would weep to see our process and end product – but we had fun, improved as we worked, and for the first time in more than a year enjoyed popping a piece of sushi, whole, into our mouths. Delightful!

Captive Thoughts

Although practical challenges are tough – fixing something that is broken, tidying something that’s a mess, walking a long distance – I think, for all of us, mental and emotional challenges are tougher.

You know what I mean.

All of us deal with fear, anger, pride, resentment, unfulfilled longing, rejection… bad experiences can leave us with a range of negative emotions and stressful thoughts.

Controlling our response to less than ideal circumstances is really important; how we handle thoughts matters.

Recently I came across a prayer for release from the trauma of negative emotions. I found it meaningful – a prayer I can pray for myself or for those close to me. Here is an adapted version.

God, help me take control of my mind and emotions. Enable me to take every thought captive and to have the discernment to know the difference between Your truth and lies that come from dark places.

When the enemy torments my mind with negative thoughts and emotions, enable me to resist. Help me to choose the love, power and sound mind You have given me. Set me free from all confusion and bring clarity of mind.

Dissolve all arrogance and bring humility. Take away rebellion and bring repentance. Remove all anxiety and bring peace. Give me faith to replace all doubt. Bring Your joy where there is sadness or depression. Give me confidence in You to replace insecurity within myself. Give me peace, patience and forgiveness to replace all anger. Give me Your love to dissolve all fear. Give me Your presence to erase all loneliness.

I pray that You would give me wisdom about what I allow into my mind. Give me great discernment so that the lines between good and bad are clear. Convict me when I cross the line and grieve my spirit the way it grieves Yours.

Heal wounds from moments when I have been ridiculed, humiliated, or made to feel like less than what You made me to be. Keep me from being imprisoned or hindered by bad memories.

Help me to remember all of the good things You have done in my life.

When I struggle with my mind or my emotions, extend to me Your peace.


God hears us when we speak to Him. He rescues us when we ask Him to. I encourage you to pray this prayer out loud. Don’t give up in praying for your own well being or the well being of a loved one… persist until you see a breakthrough!

This prayer was adapted from a prayer in a book called The Power of Praying for Your Adult Child by Stormie Omartian.


I found peace in the desert. I found peace in the raging waves. I found peace in what you say… and I can finally breathe again. I found peace in the chaos. I found peace in suffering. I found peace in confusion. I found peace inside of me… and I can finally breathe again.

Peace by Anna Golden

Are you in your forties, like I am? Do you remember an ’80s music group called Wilson Phillips? I loved the harmonies. I’m partial to layered voices moving up and down, crisscrossing as one line pulls my ear up and another plunges me low. I also like strings, especially the resonance of a cello. The echo of Wilson Phillips is still in me, and I think that’s why, when I first heard the song Peace by Anna Golden, I loved it. It’s become a song I listen to when I want to breath deeply.

In the moments that follow an episode of arrhythmia, when my body is finally quiet… unimaginably weak, but quiet… well, the right song piped into my soul via earbuds soothes me and resets my spirit. Peace does that for me.

Maybe some of you know what it feels like to struggle for air. For hours. Certainly we all know what it feels like for confusion or fear to hold us in its grip, making it hard to breathe. So, I love the gentle movement of this song from describing all of the places of peace to this simple acknowledgement: I can finally breathe again. Some days I resonate with this line both metaphorically and literally, and I love that.

Here’s the song on you-tube. Listen to it loud – music is always better when you’re swept away by the sound: Peace by Anna Golden

And here is a bonus.

One of the women who contributed to Strong Spirit introduced me to this song a few months ago. I like it because we tend to feel ashamed of weakness; I have often felt like less because of the ways I am weak. This song suggests a shift in our view of the parts of ourselves that are broken.

Weak, Proudly – song by Jillian Edwards

“My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.” 2 Cor 12:9

Goodbye Bees

You may recall that enthusiasm for attracting and aiding pollinators, an at-risk population, led me to dig up and plant most of my backyard with daisies, black-eyed susans, salvia and other bee-attracting plants. The result, in my opinion, was beautiful. I’m drawn to explosions of colour – barely-controlled country gardens. The bees obviously share my view of things, because after these plants went in, most summer days saw a haze of insects backlit by the sun’s rays in an impressive buggy cloud out back.


That first summer I was stung, for the first time in my life. If you missed the post, you can read it here: Attracting Bees.

Anaphylactic shock, it turns out, is no picnic. I’d take a hard episode of arrhythmia over a bee sting any day. When, three summers in a row, I got stung (the last time while wearing my beekeeper suit, albeit with the head mask off), my husband mildly suggested I think about removing the pollinator plants that created this magnetic haven for bees.

I didn’t want to.

But time, it turns out, can lessen the sting (did you pick up on that… sting?!) of many things, including the loss of something beautiful you’ve worked hard to create. Phase one of the unmaking-of-the-bee-haven involved working through emotional aspects of letting my beautiful garden go. I brooded about it through the winter, and this past week I felt sadder than expected as I dug up all of my now-large perennials.

I would, however, like to be able to step outside wearing normal clothes during the months of May through October.

My cousin’s daughter works in landscaping, and she suggested a dry river bed, to give the (newly bulldozed) garden a focal point – something to build it out around. The friend who loaded us with squash last fall (you can read about that here: An Unexpected Kindness) gave me some tips of what NOT to include if I don’t want to attract bees, and also some suggestions about what could soften the look of so much hardscape in this formerly green space.

Here’s where I’m at.

Most pollinator plants are out. I’ve dug a channel for my dry river bed, and shifted some plants to the edges. Next comes the landscape fabric, perennial grass clumps for the edges and the river rock. I’ll keep you updated!

NOTE:  Those of you following this blog after reading my book, Strong Spirit, may wonder how it is that someone with a heart condition is digging trenches, moving plants and collecting rocks. Have you ever found yourself inhaling a dozen chocolate treats, even though you know it’ll cause weight gain or trigger your diabetes? (I visited someone in the hospital who lost both of his legs due to diabetes early last year… don’t tell me those treats are less potentially lethal than something that could trigger a cardiac event.)

I’m feeling defensive, because I know you’re right.

I. Just. Can’t. Resist.

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